Anti-abortion violence

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Anti-abortion violence is violence committed against individuals and organizations that provide abortion.[1] Incidents of violence have included destruction of property, in the form of vandalism; crimes against people, including kidnapping, stalking, assault, attempted murder, and murder; and crimes affecting both people and property, including arson and bombings.

Anti-abortion violence is most frequently committed in the United States,[citation needed] though it has also occurred in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. G. Davidson Smith of Canadian Security Intelligence Service defined anti-abortion violence as "single issue terrorism".[2] A study of 1982–87 violence considered the incidents "limited political" or "subrevolutionary" terrorism.[3]

Definition and characteristics[edit]

Anti-abortion violence is a form of terrorism specifically visited upon people who or places which provide abortion. Incidents include vandalism, arson, and bombings of abortion clinics, such as those committed by Eric Rudolph, and murders or attempted murders of physicians and clinic staff, as committed by James Kopp, Paul Jennings Hill, Scott Roeder, Michael F. Griffin, and Peter James Knight.

Some of those opposed to abortion have sometimes resorted to very public demonstrations of violence in an effort to achieve their objective of curbing abortions. Those who engage in or support such actions defend the use of force—as justifiable homicide or defense of others—in the interest of protecting the life of the fetus.[4]

David C. Nice, of the University of Georgia, describes support for anti-abortion violence as a political weapon against women's rights, one that is associated with tolerance for violence toward women.[5]

Anti-abortion violence is recognized as a form of Christian terrorism.[6] Some supporters of such violence embrace this designation.[7]

By country[edit]

United States[edit]


In the U.S., violence directed towards abortion providers has killed at least eight people, including four doctors, two clinic employees, a security guard, and a clinic escort.[8][9]

  • March 10, 1993: Dr. David Gunn of Pensacola, Florida was fatally shot during a protest. He had been the subject of wanted-style posters distributed by Operation Rescue in the summer of 1992. Michael F. Griffin was found guilty of Gunn's murder and was sentenced to life in prison.[10]
  • July 29, 1994: Dr. John Britton and James Barrett, a clinic escort, were both shot to death outside another facility, the Ladies Center, in Pensacola. Rev. Paul Jennings Hill was charged with the killings. Hill received a death sentence and was executed on September 3, 2003. The clinic in Pensacola had been bombed before in 1984 and was also bombed subsequently in 2012.
  • December 30, 1994: Two receptionists, Shannon Lowney and Lee Ann Nichols, were killed in two clinic attacks in Brookline, Massachusetts. John Salvi was arrested and confessed to the killings. He died in prison and guards found his body under his bed with a plastic garbage bag tied around his head. Salvi had also confessed to a non-lethal attack in Norfolk, Virginia days before the Brookline killings.
  • January 29, 1998: Robert Sanderson, an off-duty police officer who worked as a security guard at an abortion clinic in Birmingham, Alabama, was killed when his workplace was bombed. Eric Robert Rudolph, who was also responsible for the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing, was charged with the crime and received two life sentences as a result.
  • October 23, 1998: Dr. Barnett Slepian was shot to death with a high-powered rifle at his home in Amherst, New York.[11] His was the last in a series of similar shootings against providers in Canada and northern New York state which were all likely committed by James Kopp. Kopp was convicted of Slepian's murder after being apprehended in France in 2001.

Attempted murder, assault, and kidnapping[edit]

According to statistics gathered by the National Abortion Federation (NAF), an organization of abortion providers, since 1977 in the United States and Canada, there have been 17 attempted murders, 383 death threats, 153 incidents of assault or battery, and 3 kidnappings committed against abortion providers.[13] Attempted murders in the U.S. included:[8][14][15]

  • August 1982: Three men identifying as the Army of God kidnapped Hector Zevallos (a doctor and clinic owner) and his wife, Rosalee Jean, holding them for eight days.[16]
  • August 19, 1993: Dr. George Tiller was shot outside of an abortion facility in Wichita, Kansas. Shelley Shannon was charged with the crime and received an 11-year prison sentence (20 years were later added for arson and acid attacks on clinics).
  • July 29, 1994: June Barret was shot in the same attack which claimed the lives of James Barrett, her husband, and Dr. John Britton.
  • December 30, 1994: Five individuals were wounded in the shootings which killed Shannon Lowney and Lee Ann Nichols.
  • October 28, 1997: Dr. David Gandell of Rochester, New York was injured by flying glass when a shot was fired through the window of his home.[17]
  • January 29, 1998: Emily Lyons, a nurse, was severely injured, and lost an eye, in the bombing which also killed off-duty police officer Robert Sanderson.

Arson, bombing, and property crime[edit]

According to NAF, since 1977 in the United States and Canada, property crimes committed against abortion providers have included 41 bombings, 173 arsons, 91 attempted bombings or arsons, 619 bomb threats, 1630 incidents of trespassing, 1264 incidents of vandalism, and 100 attacks with butyric acid ("stink bombs").[13] The New York Times also cites over one hundred clinic bombings and incidents of arson, over three hundred invasions, and over four hundred incidents of vandalism between 1978 and 1993.[18] The first clinic arson occurred in Oregon in March 1976 and the first bombing occurred in February 1978 in Ohio.[19] Incidents have included:

  • May 26, 1983: Joseph Grace set the Hillcrest clinic in Norfolk, Virginia ablaze. He was arrested while sleeping in his van a few blocks from the clinic when an alert patrol officer noticed the smell of kerosene.[20]
  • May 12, 1984: Two men entered a Birmingham, Alabama clinic shortly after a lone woman opened the doors at 7:45 am. Forcing their way into the clinic, one of the men threatened the woman if she tried to prevent the attack while the other, wielding a sledgehammer, did between $7,500 and $8,000 of damage to suction equipment. The man who damaged the equipment was later identified as Father Edward Markley. Father Markley is a Benedictine Monk who was the Birmingham diocesan "Coordinator for Pro-Life Activities". Markley was convicted of first-degree criminal mischief and second-degree burglary. His accomplice has never been identified. Following the Birmingham incident, Markley entered the Women's Community Health Center in Huntsville Alabama, assaulting at least three clinic workers. One of the workers, Kathryn Wood received back injuries and a broken neck vertebrae. Markley was convicted of first-degree criminal mischief and three counts of third-degree assault and harassment in the Huntsville attack.[21]
  • December 25, 1984: An abortion clinic and two physicians' offices in Pensacola, Florida, were bombed in the early morning of Christmas Day by a quartet of young people (Matt Goldsby, Jimmy Simmons, Kathy Simmons, Kaye Wiggins) who later called the bombings "a gift to Jesus on his birthday."[22][23][24] The clinic, the Ladies Center, would later be the site of the murder of Dr. John Britton and James Barrett in 1994 and a firebombing in 2012.
  • March 29, 1993: Blue Mountain Clinic in Missoula, Montana; at around 1 a.m., an arsonist snuck onto the premises and firebombed the clinic. The perpetrator, a Washington man, was ultimately caught, convicted and imprisoned. The facility was a near-total loss, but all of the patients' records, though damaged, survived the fire in metal file cabinets.[25][26][27]
  • May 21, 1998: Three people were injured when acid was poured at the entrances of five abortion clinics in Miami, Florida.[28]
  • October 1999: Martin Uphoff set fire to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, causing US$100 worth of damage. He was later sentenced to 60 months in prison.[29]
  • May 28, 2000: An arson at a clinic in Concord, New Hampshire, resulted in several thousand dollars' worth of damage. The case remains unsolved.[30][31][32] This was the second arson at the clinic.[33]
  • September 30, 2000: John Earl, a Catholic priest, drove his car into the Northern Illinois Health Clinic after learning that the FDA had approved the drug RU-486. He pulled out an ax before being forced to the ground by the owner of the building, who fired two warning shots from a shotgun.[34]
  • June 11, 2001: An unsolved bombing at a clinic in Tacoma, Washington, destroyed a wall, resulting in $6,000 in damages.[29][35]
  • July 4, 2005: A clinic Palm Beach, Florida, was the target of an arson. The case remains open.[29]
  • December 12, 2005: Patricia Hughes and Jeremy Dunahoe threw a Molotov cocktail at a clinic in Shreveport, Louisiana. The device missed the building and no damage was caused. In August 2006, Hughes was sentenced to six years in prison, and Dunahoe to one year. Hughes claimed the bomb was a "memorial lamp" for an abortion she had had there.[36]
  • September 11, 2006 David McMenemy of Rochester Hills, Michigan, crashed his car into the Edgerton Women's Care Center in Davenport, Iowa. He then doused the lobby in gasoline and started a fire. McMenemy committed these acts in the belief that the center was performing abortions; however, Edgerton is not an abortion clinic.[37] Time magazine listed the incident in a "Top 10 Inept Terrorist Plots" list.[38]
  • April 25, 2007: A package left at a women's health clinic in Austin, Texas, contained an explosive device capable of inflicting serious injury or death. A bomb squad detonated the device after evacuating the building. Paul Ross Evans (who had a criminal record for armed robbery and theft) was found guilty of the crime.[39]
  • May 9, 2007: An unidentified person deliberately set fire to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Virginia Beach, Virginia.[40]
  • December 6, 2007: Chad Altman and Sergio Baca were arrested for the arson of Dr. Curtis Boyd's clinic in Albuquerque. Baca's girlfriend had scheduled an appointment for an abortion at the clinic.[41][42]
  • January 22, 2009 Matthew L. Derosia, 32, who was reported to have had a history of mental illness[43] rammed an SUV into the front entrance of a Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Paul, Minnesota.[44]
  • January 1, 2012 Bobby Joe Rogers, 41, firebombed the American Family Planning Clinic in Pensacola, Florida, with a Molotov cocktail; the fire gutted the building. Rogers told investigators that he was motivated to commit the crime by his opposition to abortion, and that what more directly prompted the act was seeing a patient enter the clinic during one of the frequent anti-abortion protests there. The clinic had previously been bombed at Christmas in 1984 and was the site of the murder of Dr. John Britton and James Barrett in 1994.[45]
  • April 1, 2012 A bomb exploded on the windowsill of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Grand Chute, Wisconsin, resulting in a fire that damaged one of the clinic's examination rooms. No injuries were reported.
  • April 11, 2013 A Planned Parenthood clinic in Bloomington, Indiana, was vandalized with an axe.[46]

Anthrax threats[edit]

The first hoax letters claiming to contain anthrax were mailed to U.S. clinics in October 1998, a few days after the Slepian shooting; since then, there have been 655 such bioterror threats made against abortion providers. None of the "anthrax" in these cases was real.[14][47]

  • November 2001: After the genuine 2001 anthrax attacks, Clayton Waagner mailed hoax letters containing a white powder to 554 clinics. On December 3, 2003, Waagner was convicted of 51 charges relating to the anthrax scare.


  • July 16, 2001: Steven Rogers, a security guard at a clinic in Melbourne, Australia was shot in the chest and killed by Peter James Knight. Knight brought ropes and gags into the clinic along with 16 litres of kerosene, intending to burn all 15 staff and 26 patients to death.[48][49] Knight was charged and was sentenced to life in prison on November 19, 2002.[50]
  • January 6, 2009: A firebombing using Molotov cocktails was attempted at a medical clinic in Mosman Park, Western Australia. Faulty construction of the bombs limited damage to a single external burnt area, though if successful damage would have been severe. It is believed that the individuals who made the attack were responsible for graffiti "baby killers" on the site, indicating an anti-abortion reason for the attack. The site turned out to in fact not be an abortion clinic, though the attackers most likely were not aware of this.[51]


Attempted murder[edit]

Violence has also occurred in Canada, where three doctors have been attacked to date. There is speculation that the timing of the shootings is related to the Canadian observance of Remembrance Day. The physicians were part of a pattern of attacks, which targeted providers in Canada and upstate New York, including Dr. Barnett Slepian. All victims were shot, or shot at, in their homes with a rifle, at dusk or in the morning, in late October or early November.

A joint Canadian-F.B.I. task force investigating the shootings was not formed until December 1997—three years after the first attack. A task force coordinator, Inspector David Bowen of the Hamilton-Wentworth Regional Police, complained that the Canadian Government was not adequately financing the investigation. Inspector Bowen said the task force, largely financed by the communities where the shootings occurred, has "operated on a shoestring" with a budget of $100,000. He said he requested more funds in July that would raise its budget to $250,000. Federal officials rejected the request on Oct 15, a week before Dr. Slepian was killed. Inspector Bowen said that there hadn't been funding to follow up potential leads.[11]

James Kopp, an American citizen and resident was charged with the murder of Dr. Slepian and the attempted murder of Dr. Short; he is suspected of having committed the other shootings as well.[14][15]

  • November 8, 1994: In 1994, a sniper fired two bullets into the home of Dr. Garson Romalis, 57, of Vancouver, British Columbia who was eating breakfast. One hit his thigh, destroyed some of his muscles, broke his femur and damaged his femoral artery. Dr. Romalis saved his own life by using his bathrobe belt as a tourniquet. Dr. Romalis still performs abortions and has become more outspoken about abortion rights since he was shot, citing the harm done to women by illegal abortion and the thousands of cases of septic abortion that came to his hospital in residency.[11][52]
  • November 10, 1995: Dr. Hugh Short, 62, of Ancaster, Ontario was shot. A sniper's bullet fired into his home shattered his elbow and ended his surgical career. Dr. Short was not a high-profile target: it was not widely known that he did abortions.[11]
  • November 11, 1997: Dr. Jack Fainman, 66, of Winnipeg, Manitoba was shot. A gunman fired through the back window of Fainman's riverbank home in Winnipeg about 9 pm and struck him in the right shoulder, inches from his heart. The police would not comment on whether Dr. Fainman, who has declined interview requests since the attack, is still performing abortions.[11]
  • July 11, 2000: Dr. Romalis was stabbed by an unidentified assailant in the lobby of his clinic.[52]

Bombing and property damage[edit]

  • February 25, 1990: Two men broke into a clinic in Vancouver and destroyed $C30,000 worth of medical equipment with crowbars.[53]
  • May 18, 1992: A Toronto clinic operated by Henry Morgentaler was firebombed, causing the entire front wall of the building to collapse.[54] The Morgentaler Clinic on Harbord Street in Toronto was firebombed during the night by two people (caught on security camera) using gasoline and a firework to set off the explosion.[55] The next day, clinic management announced that the firebombing failed to prevent any abortions, since all scheduled abortions were carried out in alternative locations. A portion of the Toronto Women's Bookstore, next door, was damaged. No one was hurt but the building had to be demolished. On the day after the firebombing, Morgentaler came to inspect the damage and a crowd of abortion-rights supporters appeared at the clinic with signs that read, "Just Say No to Bombs." As a result of the arson, the Ontario government decided to spend $420,000 on improved security for abortion clinics. At the time, all four free-standing clinics in Ontario were in Toronto. The government wanted to gather information about activities by anti-abortion sympathizers; at the time, law enforcement agencies in Canada did not collect statistics about harassment and violence against abortion providers, their clinics, or their clients.[55]

New Zealand[edit]

In the late 1990s, Graeme White was found guilty and sent to prison for tunneling into an abortion clinic[56][57] with what the police described as "incendiary devices".[58][unreliable source?]

Violence by Army of God[edit]

Main article: Army of God

The Army of God, an underground terrorist organization active in the United States, has been responsible for a substantial amount of anti-abortion violence. In addition to numerous property crimes, the group has committed acts of kidnapping, attempted murder, and murder. In August 1982, three men identifying as the Army of God kidnapped Hector Zevallos (a doctor and clinic owner) and his wife, Rosalee Jean, holding them for eight days.[16] In 1993, Shelly Shannon, a very active member of the Army of God, was found guilty of the attempted murder of Dr. George Tiller.[59] That same year, law enforcement officials found the Army of God Manual, a tactical guide to arson, chemical attacks, invasions, and bombings buried in Shelly Shannon's backyard.[16] Paul Jennings Hill was found guilty of the murder of both Dr. John Britton and clinic escort James Barrett. The Army of God supported Hill, saying that "whatever force is legitimate to defend the life of a born child is legitimate to defend the life of an unborn child... if in fact Paul Hill did kill or wound abortionist John Britton, and accomplices James Barrett and Mrs. Barrett, his actions are morally justified if they were necessary for the purpose of defending innocent human life".[14] The AOG claimed responsibility for Eric Robert Rudolph's 1997 shrapnel bombing of abortion clinics in Atlanta and Birmingham.[60]

Physician "wanted" posters[edit]

In the late 1990s, an organization called American Coalition of Life Activists (ACLA) was accused of implicitly advocating violence by its publication on its "Nuremberg Files" website of wanted-style posters, which featured a photograph of a physician who performed abortions along with a monetary reward for any information that would lead to his "arrest, conviction, and revocation of license to practice medicine".[61] The ACLA's website described these physicians as war criminals[62] and accused them of committing "crimes against humanity". The web site also published names, home addresses, telephone numbers, and other personal information regarding abortion providers—highlighting the names of those who had been wounded and striking out those of who had been killed. Dr. George Tiller's name was included on this list along with many others. The site was accused of being a thinly-veiled hit list intended to incite violence; others claimed that it was protected under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.[63] In 2002, after a prolonged debate, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the "posters" constituted an illegal threat.[64]


Anti-abortion reactions[edit]

The American Life League issued a "Pro-life Proclamation Against Violence" in 2006.[65][better source needed] Other anti-abortion groups to state their opposition to violence include the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform and Pro-Lifers Against Clinic Violence. The anti-abortion organization National Coalition for Life and Peace has also rejected violence as a form of opposition to abortion.[66][better source needed]

Many anti-abortion organizations—including Family Research Council, Americans United for Life, Concerned Women for America, Susan B. Anthony List, American Life League, Students for Life of America, Pro-Life Action League and 40 Days For Life—issued statements condemning the 2009 murder of Kansas late-term abortion doctor George Tiller.[67][68]

Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry neither condemned nor condoned anti-abortion violence, but he did lead public prayers that an abortion provider would "[convert] to God" or that "calamity [would] strike him".[69] Terry added that he hoped the "baby killer would be tried and executed for crimes against humanity".[69] The doctor targeted by Terry's prayers said to the press, "He's clearly inciting someone, anyone, to kill me."[69]

While still rejecting anti-abortion violence, a few anti-abortion leaders have tempered their condemnation of anti-abortion violence by suggesting that the harm created by crimes against property is small in comparison to the harm of abortion. Joseph Scheidler observed that "for the sake of proper perspective" he wanted to note that "no amount of damage to real estate can equal the violence of taking a single human life" through abortion.[70] The Rev. Flip Benham, director of Operation Rescue, accused "those in the abortion-providing industry" of committing most of the violence in an attempt to discredit the antiabortion movement. He defended his organization's use of inflammatory, violent rhetoric, saying: "This whole thing isn't about violence. It's all about silence – silencing the Christian message. That's what they want." He also stated, "They screech and scream about us crying fire in a crowded theater. And I agree it is wrong, unless there is a fire. If there's a fire in that theater, we better call it that. Our inflammatory rhetoric is only revealing a far more inflammatory truth."[71]

Abortion rights supporters' reactions[edit]

Organizations that support abortion rights have responded to anti-abortion violence by lobbying to protect access to abortion clinics. The National Abortion Federation and the Feminist Majority Foundation collect statistics on incidents of anti-abortion violence. The Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act was passed in 1994 to protect reproductive health service facilities and their staff and patients from violent threats, assault, vandalism, and blockade.[72] State, provincial, and local governments have also passed similar laws designed to afford legal protection of access to abortion in the United States and Canada.

Anti-abortion violence in popular culture[edit]


  • The Fourth Procedure, a 1995 novel by Stanley Pottinger, is a medical thriller and murder mystery that features anti-abortion violence in its plot. Two men responsible for the bombing of an abortion clinic turn up dead with baby dolls surgically implanted inside of them.[73]
  • Insomnia, by Stephen King, has much of the plot focusing around violent anti-abortion campaigners and their opposition to a pro-choice speech due to be held in their town. The group murders several women they believe to be seeking abortions and attempts to assassinate the speaker. They are motivated by a conspiracy theory that the speaker is part of a secret society that was a continuation of Herod's Massacre of the Innocents.
  • Gideon's Torch, a 1995 novel by Charles Colson and Ellen Santilli Vaughn, begins with the murder of a doctor who provides abortions and chronicles political fallout from the murder and a resulting government crackdown on right-to-lifers.[74]



  • "Dignity", an episode of the crime drama Law & Order, was inspired by the killing of George Tiller and focused on the killing of an abortion provider by an activist. Pro-choice activists criticized the episode for making use of mainstream anti-abortion arguments. The National Organization for Women (NOW) listed the episode in their Media Hall of Shame, saying it "was loaded with anti-abortion sentiment and propaganda" and that it "outrageously implied that physicians like Dr. Tiller may be culpable in their own murders because they themselves are baby killers".[75] Meanwhile, anti-abortion activists had condemned the killing of Tiller that inspired the episode, but praised the episode for being "outright pro-life",[citation needed] with Dave Andrusko of the National Right to Life Committee saying, "[I]t occurred to me as I listened in utter astonishment that each of these observations could have been presented in a way that was artificial, forced, or (as so often is the case with network portraits of pro-lifers) something that you would expect from an idiot. None of that was the case. These were real flesh-and-blood people, not caricatures."[76]
  • Law and Order: Special Victims Unit showed the possible motive of a murder as anti-abortion violence in the episode "Hammered". The Nuremberg Files site is mentioned in the episode when detectives tell the doctor's ex-husband about the murder. The abortion clinic they visit has bulletproof glass, because it had been the target of a sniper who shot and wounded a receptionist. When the detectives go to the clinic, they experience an egging of the clinic as they look into collecting several boxes of hate mail that the clinic received.
  • The first episode of the spy drama Spooks is about a fictional anti-abortion terrorist leader visiting the UK to establish a series of terror cells.
  • The Showtime Masters of Horror TV series episode "Pro-Life" tells the tale of a Christian man whose daughter is raped by a demon. When she tries to have her unnatural child aborted, her Christian father starts hearing messages from a voice he thinks is "God". He and her brothers storm the abortion clinic and kill any in their way.
  • On The Sarah Silverman Program episode "Bored of the Rings", a radical anti-abortion group attempts to bomb an abortion clinic, but are stopped by Sarah.


See also[edit]


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